“This film really helped me”- a conversation with Artur Wyrzykowski, director of the movie “Unburial”
Your movie is being presented during the section called “Focus: Idea”. It is a part of the festival dedicated for movies with an Idea- ones that are impossible to categorise by genre or subject. When you were creating “Unburial”, did you think about it as an experimental film?
Yes, although I’d rather people didn’t think of it that way. It makes you think that it is something hostile, something too challenging. However, reflecting on the subject matter of the film, and how it was made, it is hard to dispute that it was an experiment. „Unburial” stands out from other films. The viewer has to invest a lot in order to enter this world and accept this convention. It’s not the type of film that you watch everyday. Here, the absurdity of it all is so strong that it is hard for many viewers to fully understand, or it’s not pleasurable for them. That is something I also notice during screenings- the movie is pretty hard to decipher.
After all, we are dealing here with something really grotesque. We are witnessing dramatic events- the death of the father, stagnation of life, unknown rituals. Yet somehow it’s all comical…
That’s because this experiment consists of the initial assumption, the genre and the form in which it was made. But I think it’s important to mention that the structure of this story was created as usual. I create stories everyday so I really made sure that this was clear. It’s a story about someone who has a problem, and encounters obstacles when dealing with it. Because this person overcomes these obstacles, it’s possible for them to change, and thanks to this change in the end they are able to achieve their goal. That is the structure of a classic story.
So it’s more like experimenting with the form. For example, we can notice that the camera moves in a kind of documentary way, and that’s also where you can see the absurdity.
Together with Ernest Wilczyński, the cinematographer, we intended for the camera work to balance out the absurdity of the world presented in the film. While working on this movie, some people suggested that it should be filmed statically- like a Wes Anderson movie. However, this would create a distance between the viewer and the story, it would add a sense of oddity- as if it was being performed on stage. And I want for the viewer to feel as if they are in the middle of the events. The documentary movements of the camera are supposed to do that- we as the viewers are someone that is there for the first time- someone who’s looking around, pulling away and focusing their gaze. So the camera work was supposed to make this fantasy feel more real and believable.
How did the work on this project begin?
I have this thing where I write down my ideas. So I already had notes about specific scenes, for example the one in which the expert from the city hall is harshly judging someone’s hopeless life. But I started writing the script when I understood that I personally find it difficult to find closure for a relationship that has already ended. It’s like in some way, I was just like Berka and that’s why I couldn’t move on. That’s one thing that prompted me to do it.
The other thing was the fact that I wanted to make another film, so I decided that the best way to go about it is to make it about something that is bothering me at the moment. After all, that’s something that I know the most about.
Then, would you say that this is some sort of therapy?
Absolutely. This film really helped me. It made me gain perspective on my problem. Just like Berka, I managed to close a certain stage in my head and in my heart. Just like her, I believed that it was the end and I made my peace with it.
I’m only kind of joking when I say that there’s no need to spend money on therapy if you can spend ten times more and make a movie about it. That’s exactly what I did.
What did the casting process look like? I’ll remind that in “Unburial” Berka is portrayed by Agnieszka Matan, and Berkas father is played by Jacek Poniedziałek.
When making short films, I don’t work with people who specialise in castings. I cast people myself. At some point while working on the story, the characters just start to look a certain way in my head. I become attached to certain actors. Jacek is an example of that- at some point I just knew that he has to be Berkas dad. His manner of speaking, his appearance… It was the same case with Agnieszka. This is her first movie, she’s a screenwriter and a comedian. As a person she’s completely different from Berka. In spite of this, I pictured her as this character from the start.
And what about the other actors?
The rest of the actors were cast with the help of acting agencies when we had established the date of the shooting. I was really lucky to be able to cast Robert Czebotar (The Expert) and Paulina Gałązka (Olga), and that they happened to be able to do the movie during that time. Both of them turned out to be great as their characters.
For such a short film that is “Unburial”, there are a lot of actors playing in it. After all, there are a couple of scenes with a lot of people on screen, during which- as I was able to find out from the end credits- you engaged a dance team.
Actually it was two teams… It was a short movie, which means that I didn’t have a lot of money, and while making a film with a smaller budget, you have to know how you are going to go about it. So we looked for teams so that the people that we hired would already be organised.
It makes the work on the set much easier. We also wanted for the group to specifically be interested in this type of experience, as we didn’t have much to offer- only a symbolic paycheck and food on the set. And we managed to find these groups.
The first team was Intergenerational Dancing (Dancing Międzypokoleniowy)- people of different ages, all of them with an experience in professional dancing (also on movie sets).
We knew that it would be easier for them to learn the choreography since they already have a good sense of rhythm.
The other team was a choir, so we already knew that the singing during the climax scene would sound properly.
Right- there’s a song during the most important scene in the film. It’s a melody of a religious chant with changed lyrics. What did you think about that?
The idea for a musical climax that serves as a symbol of “leaving the casket” by our character came up very early on. I just knew that at some point the dad has to sing for Berka.
I chose “You are The King”- a song that I remember from my First Communion. I was always very fond of it.
It reminded me of the feeling of greatness and being a part of a community, part of something bigger, therefore it was the perfect song for this scene. It obviously has its own meaning, but instead of praising something that doesn’t exist, maybe we could use this song to learn to accept each other. So I wrote new lyrics, better than the ones from the church.
Now you’ve made “Unburial”, but you often mention that you are aiming to direct your first feature film. At what stage is the work on said film?
The work is in a very advanced phase. At the moment I’m applying for financial aid from PISF. I’m already in the second stage. I’m waiting for the board to make a decision.
I am aware that the competition is very strong- at this stage there are twenty projects, some of them made by creators with a way larger experience than mine.
On the other hand, my project is pretty simple and I don’t need that much money, so maybe I’ll be able to coast through.
What will this film be about?
Everything is happening in the same place and at the same time. Three people in one apartment.
It’s a thriller about a father who is trying to deal with the fact that his son has killed his friend from school. He only has three hours to decide what will happen to his son.
But above all else, he has to face the truth about what kind of father he is. I’ve been working on the script since the beginning of this year and I have already arranged actors for these roles. If we manage to get the money from PISF, we should start filming in spring.
Artur Wyrzykowski – director, screenwriter and a novel analyst.
He directs short films (in two years he has made five of them) and he has a blog Nieskończone.pl where- in his own words- he analyses movie scripts.
Right now he’s also in the process of making his first feature film called “This can’t be happening”.
His newest short film is being screened at the Lublin Film Festival. “Unburial” tells a story about Berka, a thirty-one year old woman, who, persuaded by her father, participates in a ritual of unburying, which is supposed to bring the joy back to her life.